List of the best Netvibes alternatives

My Yahoo: Custom start page from where to read your favourite news sites, you can add gadgets to quickly check email, see the weather forecast, add notes and much more, Yahoo is one of the personalized homepages with most customization options.

My Yahoo startpage
My Yahoo startpage

BackStitch: Still in beta testing, it can be easily integrated with Twitter and Facebook feeds, you get the usual customizable divisions with RSS feeds that can be moved around and tabs to switch in between topics.

BackStich custom homepage
BackStich custom homepage

Symbaloo: Personal internet desktop with dozens of widgets, you can easily switch in between the web mixes using the tabs. Most of the widgets are a collection of links to websites relevant to the subject, a great way to discover new sites.

Symbaloo custom startpage
Symbaloo custom startpage

uStart: Drag and drop gadgets that include weather forecast and calendar, easy to customize, just like with Netvibes you can add your own RSS feeds or choose the ready made newsfeeds from the most popular sites.

uStart home page Netvibes alternative
uStart home page Netvibes alternative

Spaaze: Virtual cork board where to add notes, snippets, task lists and simple home pages, everything looks like a notice board and the notes mimic real paper, you can drag and drop them anywhere you like, even the cork board can be scrolled down.

Spaaze start page
Spaaze start page

Review free USA VPN Cocoon

Although they do not mention the word VPN anywhere on their site it works pretty close to what a VPN service does, Cocoon sits in between your ISP and the website you would like to visit and and handles the data requests back and forward hiding your real computer IP, the benefits are that nobody can see your real location, except by Cocoon, and websites believe you are in the same country that Cocoon servers are, the USA, bypassing  geolocation blocking used by online TV and music sites.

In addition Cocoon will also block all advertisements and relay your data through an encrypted tunnel, an ideal tool to secure yourself at public Wifi hotspots where anyone with a packet sniffer could see what websites you visit and grab your passwords. The downside is that it only works with Firefox and Internet Explorer, installing a toolbar. And although Cocoon blocks websites advertisements they serve you their own ads, that is how they finance themselves. Cocoon adverts come in the form of small video clips right in the middle of a new tab, they appear at random times, not very frequently and bearable in my experience but impossible to skip.

Free USA VPN Cocoon
Free USA VPN Cocoon

I was impressed with their download speed, tested from Europe I achieved 8Mbps downstream and 0.5Mbps upstream, you should be able to watch high definition video with that. I tested for Geoblocking at Hulu, Pandora, CWTV and Slacker radio, they all worked and I was able to watch USA TV from abroad for free.

It appears to be a service targeted at computer beginners, easy to configure, you just need to install a toolbar, they avoid technical language and the account interface is really neat. You can upgrade to their premium service and get rid of their publicity while you surf, Cocoon isn’t expensive but they are not a real VPN either, only your web browser is protected whereas a VPN will protect all of your outgoing connections, including mail clients and filesharing. If you are willing to pay I would go for a real VPN I would try VPN4All instead of Cocoon VPN pseudoservice, you could combine both services, get a cheap VPN with bandwidth limits and use Cocoon free service for online video streaming, saving your VPN account bandwidth. Privacy wise, Cocoon will store a list of visited sites on their central server, visible from within your account, they claim that everything is encrypted and only you have access to the data but if someone where to get hold of your password they would have access too, in order to change these settings you will need a paid for account, few settings can be changed in the free version.

As a content creator I also think that this has to be one of the most hypocrite companies I have come across, on the one hand they block websites adverts, like the ones found here, and deny sites from revenue they deserve while they show users their own intrusive adverts, it sounds like do as I say not like I do, other than that, a nice alternative to HotSpotShield, and it is available for the iPhone and iPad too.

Visit Cocoon VPN homepage

List of online payment companies alternative to Paypal

Paypal, owned by eBay, remains one of the most used payment processing companies, they are particularly appropriate for small transactions due to their low commission in comparison to credit card merchant charges. Unfortunately Paypal terms and conditions can be restrictive or they might terminate your account unjustly, you might want to look at these other alternative payment processors:

Payza: With headquarters in Canada, the buyer can pay using a credit card or their own Payza account, after taking a commission the company will send the money to your online account, it can be withdrawn by international wiring, cheque or credit card.

WireCard: It can be used for accepting credit cards online, it supports all major currencies, pay outs can be made using a prepaid reloadable Visa card that can be used anywhere in the world or to your bank account.

2CheckOut: Worldwide payment processing company that bundles a merchant account with a payment gateway accepting credit cards, it can be used for single transactions or subscriptions. Easy integration with online shopping carts.

2CheckOut online payment
2CheckOut online payment

Stripe: Let’s you build a payment processing without needing a merchant account, Stripe handles subscriptions, bank account payments, credit card storage and security. You will need some coding skills to embed it on your website.

E-Junkie: It can be used to sell digital goods, from software to e-books and physical items on eBay or Craiglist. You are provided with a “Buy now” button, E-junkie handles all payments including adding the necessary taxes.

Mobile phone payments

ZayPay: Mobile payment processor, ideal for micropayments buying virtual goods in games. ZayPay can be used to make small international payments through SMS or a phone call, the buyer gets charged on his phone bill and the seller gets paid in his bank account.

Payments for free lancers 

PayoNeer: Payments solutions for affiliate networks and free lance payments. Affiliates are sent funds to their prepaid credit card, it can be used anywhere in the world and it is reloadable.

Paxum: Account can be used for adult entertainment affiliate payments, after account verification you can top it up using your bank account or a credit card and make payments to other Paxum users.

Paxum affiliate payments
Paxum affiliate payments

US only payment processors 

WePay: Payment processor to sell all kind of items (no pornography), accept donations and request payments from people that own you money. Accounts are funded using a credit card or your bank account.

Noca: Payment solution for online merchants with easy shopping cart integration, payment requests are re-routed through them without the customer even realising. There is no need to hold a merchant account.

Dwolla: It can be used to buy stuff online, sending money to friends and payments using a smartphone in participating retailers. It eliminates credit card fraud by not using it, the account is funded setting up a direct debit in your bank account.

Digital currencies 

PerfectMoney: This online currency can be funded using a bank wire, sending SMS messages charged to your phone bill or through other e-currencies. Withdraws are made using a prepaid credit card or bank wire.

BitCoin: Peer-to-peer digital currency with no central authority to regulate it, often used for private payments. You can buy BitCoins from an exchange or produce them yourself using the provided software, due to the time needed to produce BitCoins it isn’t feasible to make a huge amount, you are likely to have to buy them.

P2P electronic currency Bitcoin
P2P electronic currency Bitcoin

WebMoney: Based in Russia, this payment processing company  does not have to follow US laws on gambling, it can be used at Poker sites. They accept all major currencies, WM accounts can be funded through a bank transfer or prepaid credit card and money can be withdraw by wiring.

Secure personal journal and online diary Penzu

Penzu is a free web based private online diary that looks like a recreation of real paper and allows for optional sharing of your entries, the default is to keep everything private. Photos can be inserted directly from Flickr or uploaded from your hard drive, text is automatically saved every few seconds, fonts and background are highly customizable with no annoying banners to distract you when writing and if you would like to print everything out you can do so with a single click. Anyone able to use a word editor can use Penzu, including children.

All of the entries can be backed up locally exporting them as PDF, TXT or XML, thanks to this you won’t have to worry if Penzu ceases to exist in the future or you decide to cancel your account. It will be best for your privacy to encrypt the data backups after downloading them, DiskCryptor can help you do that and it is free, just Bing it.

Penzu online diary
Penzu online diary

Why keep an online diary? Writing down your thoughts can be beneficial for your health as a therapy, you can look back in a few years time and remember what you were doing, organise your life, students writing an essay, boost your memory, or to help you write your autobiography in the future.

A paid for version of Penzu allows you to use Penzu on mobile devices (iPhone, Android, iPad, etc) and encrypt online journal entries  with AES256, an unbreakable cipher used by the US Government to keep top secret data. Penzu staff is unable to access your encrypted data in the server, a great way to guarantee your privacy won’t be breached by accident. Make sure to remember your passphrase or use a password manager like KeePass to store it. If you are concerned that your Penzu account password isn’t secure enough, you can double protect all entries with a second independent password.

Visit Penzu homepage

How to come up with a cool nickname

If you try to use a short an easy to remember nick to register on an online forum it will likely have been registered by someone else before you. To get around this problem you can think of something very personal, extract a word and add a personal number, for example the name of a small town nearby and the first two digits of your date of birth.

Another easy way to find an online nickname that has not been taken yet is by choosing a foreign word different from the forum main communication language, or listen to a song and pick up a funny word from its lyrics, I sometimes use Thesaurus.com when I am lost for words too.

Websites to create cool nicknames 

Spinxo: It will ask you a series of questions like age, gender and hobbies, the  process takes just a few seconds, after which you are given a random nickname based on the answers. A list of nicknames is already visible on the screen before entering any detail.

Online-Generator: This website will allow you to generate random names that are divided by categories, you can specify you are looking for a name for a businesses, project, product, or yourself, you are then given more options like superhero, pirate or simply nickname.

Check if a nickname is already taken 

If you would like to use the same nickname on multiple websites you can check whether it has been taken or not with a people’s searcher. These websites are also useful to spy on other people’s online profiles.

Spokeo: It can be searched using a full name or nickname, presenting a list of matches at social networks, including video&music sites, dating sites, online shopping, review sites and blogging.

Explore the space in 3D with NASA Eyes on the Solar System

Eyes on the Solar System is a NASA space tour full of real data, from the comfort of your home you can hop on an asteroid, fly with the Voyager 2 spacecraft or see the entire solar system moving in real time, the user gets to control space and time making it interactive and realistic.

Everything works inside the browser after installing the Unity 3D webplayer, a very small 500Kb plugin for MAC and PC often used by online games to help build a 3D world.

NASA Eyes on the Solar System
NASA Eyes on the Solar System

Space exploration is shown from your point of view, you can follow recently launched space missions in real time like the Juno and GRAIL missions, during the space exploration data like mission phase, distance from Earth and targets is displayed on the screen. It is possible to go back in time as far as 1950, future projected space data goes up to 2050.  Tabs along the bottom let you pick your destination, time, speed and visually control your experience, to rotate your view just click and drag or zoom in and out. There is an introduction video quickly explaining how the controls work, or you can download more advanced tutorial videos.

It’s best to experience this solar system tour full screen, you will need broadband for a good experience and even then it could take a some seconds of wait for data to download. I really enjoyed this educative tool and it is a great way to learn about science in a personal way, where you get to choose what planet you want to go to, what to see and at what speed.

Visit NASA Eyes on the Solar System

List of microblogging tools alternative to Twitter

The tools below all claim to be different from Twitter in one way or another, it is worthwhile to research them before deciding to start a microblog.

ShareTronix: Enterprise targeted social network where co-workers, clients and partners can share information, it can be used to assign jobs to people and security policy is configurable.

Identi.ca:  Stream oriented social network running on open source (StatusNet) with 140 characters message limit, you can send private messages and create private groups, with group members needing administrator approval.

Plerb: Small microblogging tool where you can post pictures directly using a mobile device, the whole site feels like a Twitter clone, one of the main difference is that when you post a picture it appears on your feed and users are not redirected elsewhere.

Microblogging
Microblogging

Plurk: Service to showcase what you do in your life with a 140 characters limit, you can share links to videos and images with Plurk automatically creating a thumbnail view, a widget can be embedded into your blog.

CoopApp: Twitter like feed targeted at businesses, to communicate with other coworkers without distractions. It can be used to share daily agendas and coordinate meetings.

Chinese users will want to use a Twitter clone that is not censored and blocked by the Chinese Government, like Weibo(微博), and the most adventurous might want to host their own microblogging service using open source software, StableNet or Pump.io but be aware that spam can be a problem and it needs maintenance.